A man wakes up to find a gunman sitting on his chest and saying, “You have one minute to decide the rest of your life. I’m going to ask you three questions. If you lie, you die.”
The characters start to talk about people we don’t know and events we haven’t seen, so we’re confused but intrigued by “2 Days in the Valley.” It’s a great, audacious way to open a movie, but it can backfire if we begin to feel that the filmmakers plan to keep us in the dark too long.
Good news, though. We can trust writer-director John Herzfeld, who keeps skipping ahead and then letting us catch up just enough to stay engaged. The movie follows 11 lowlifes and losers who don’t know each other, but whose lives cross and double-cross in California’s San Fernando Valley. It’s a neat structure (the first time you saw it, it was called “Short Cuts”) and the characters come together in surprising ways - by the end of the movie, each actor has played a scene with virtually everyone else.
“2 Days in the Valley” has to do with a robbery and a murder, but it’s really about down-on-their-luck characters. Jeff Daniels is heart-wrenching as a defeated cop who signs a birthday card, “Love, Your First Dad.” Teri Hatcher is memorable as a shady Olympic skier, and I also liked James Spader as a hit man with an odd moral code and Paul Mazursky as a washed-up TV exec who uses his Emmy to dispense toilet paper.
The performances help disguise the fact that “2 Days” isn’t exactly fresh - one scene is lifted from “Reservoir Dogs” - and that even the funny parts are awfully somber. But the actors make the most of their brief roles, perhaps heeding Spader’s words: “Nobody realizes how valuable a minute is until they only have one left.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “2 Days in the Valley” Locations: Lincoln Heights and North Division cinemas Credits: Directed and written by John Herzfeld, starring Danny Aiello, Jeff Daniels, Teri Hatcher Running time: 1:44 Rating: R
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